Donovan Mannion, 14, was playing with an airsoft pellet gun several summers ago, grinning as the plastic bullets shot out of the gun. Then, he stopped and saw the waste.
That’s when the idea hit: Why aren’t there biodegradable airsoft pellets designed to provide nutrients for the grass?
Mannion brought that idea to life last week when he and 22 other Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester members mocked up business plans as part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s Make Your Job BizAcademy summer program.
The two-week camp, a miniature MBA-style workshop for high school students, culminated with the top three teams presenting their ideas to a panel of five judges on July 17.
Of the three pitches, Mannion’s was the most comprehensive, winning accolades from the judges and earning him the $1,000 first-place prize.
“The one thing I’ll take away most is creating a goal for yourself and striving for it,” Mannion, an incoming ninth-grader at Thayer Academy, said after the event. “I never thought about actually starting a company, but I’ll probably implement my plan now. It’s pretty surreal.”
BizAcademy is a free program sponsored by the Citi Foundation as part of its three-year, $50 million Pathways to Progress initiative, which was started in 2014. In 2015, Make Your Job will serve 3,500 students in 10 cities across the United States.
“I think it’s wonderful that you are learning at such a young age all about business,” John Maher, Citi’s senior vice president of government relations, said in his opening remarks to the 50 students and parents at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “School is all about reading, writing, and arithmetic, and through this program, you are able to connect what you learned with real-world experiences. This is a step up from the Kool-Aid stand on the side of the road.”
Aside from summer camps, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship also sponsors business education courses in inner-city public schools. It’s one of several business education programs currently targeting youth in Boston.
Artists for Humanity provides teenagers in Boston’s public schools employment opportunities during out-of-school hours.
AFH also includes a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum to help youth graduate from high school.
Businesses United in Lending and Development Greater Boston is an elective for high-schoolers that uses experiential learning with an entrepreneurship focus to kick-start the potential in students. BUILD mentors provide students with funds to help them launch their businesses; most teams get up to $1,300 to make their business concepts realities.
NFTE was founded with the idea that business education can provide students with a different, more practical set of life lessons. It uses its Entrepreneurial Mindset Index to evaluate changes in attitude, skills, and behavior after the students have participated in the program.
Passionnete Taylor, an English teacher at Charlestown High School who oversaw the summer camp program, said Mannion’s self-confidence and determination increased as a result of the workshops; he concurred.
New York University recently studied the Pathways to Progress initiative and NFTE’s 2014 summer programs and found that about 90 percent of the surveyed students said they would remember the material better than they would have in a normal classroom setting.
“They know that they have two weeks to buckle everything down, so there [are] no mistakes,” Taylor said. “It’s one thing for it to be an idea. It’s another thing for you to actually say, ‘It can be a reality.’”